Q&A #9 – Focus/Recompose + LR Print Resolution (Podcast 150)

by | Aug 13, 2008 | Art Talk, Fundamentals, Podcast | 0 comments

Wow! What a busy few weeks I’ve had. Sorry being a few days late, but welcome to the 150th episode of the Martin Bailey Photography Podcast. I would have liked to have done something special for this milestone show, but I have been so busy lately that it just isn’t funny. Instead I’m going to do a normal episode, and answer two listener questions that I received recently. I have so many topics that I want to get into right now but simply haven’t had the time to plan for any of them, which also includes selecting images from some of the work I’ve been doing and getting it uploaded to my gallery, as well as preparing some detailed notes so that I remain coherent while recording. Because of this these queued topics are going to have to wait a little while longer. For now though, let’s get right into it and answer a couple of listener questions.

First up, I received an email from Martin Stepka. Thanks very much for your mail Martin. This is actually something that I have been asked a few times, so I figured it would be a good time to go into a little bit of detail on this. Martin wrote:

I am an amateur photographer from Slovakia. The closest to a professional I get when shooting on a friend’s wedding, though I have never got the nerves to charge for it. I have been listening to your podcasts since you joined the Photocast Network and I have listened also to the older episodes. Firstly, I would like to thank you for your work. It has been a great inspiration for me and gives me over and over the motivation to grab my camera and go out there. Especially I find useful the parts where you explain your techniques for achieving different results.

Well, thanks Martin for the kind words. It’s great to hear that I’m helping out. Martin went on to ask a question:

I own a Konica-Minolta 7D and I experience difficulties at focusing. When I closely inspect my photos, often the focus lands somewhere else than I wish. Could you make an episode about your focusing tricks? Like, how you focus on the eyes of animals still having the time to compose? Or, is the auto focusing system of Canon so much better?

So, first off, I don’t know if the accuracy of the Canon focusing system is any better than the Konica-Minolta system. I have no experience with any cameras other than Canon. For general use though, I doubt that it is much better, even if not pretty much the same as other manufacturer’s cameras. Of course, the actual focus points, the patterns of focus points, and the computer in the camera that analyses their information, are all going to make a difference from body to body and maker to maker. Also focusing improves as new bodies come out, so I’m also not saying that all cameras are created equal. The accuracy of each similar type of focus point though, is probably not that different.

When I’m shooting an animal or a person though, or pretty much anything for that matter, I rarely use all of my focus points. There is a place for this, so I’m pleased we have multiple focus points, but 95% of the time I end up selecting only the center focus point or just one other off center focus point. If I’m photographing a person or animal handheld, even for fast moving subjects, I select the center focus point, I then align the center focus point with the eyes, focus, then recompose for the shot. If I haven’t already done it, I will compose the image first, and move my location or zoom to get the right composition, then quickly move to the eyes, focus, then recompose and release the shutter. It sounds like a pain if you are not used to doing this, but it is the best way I’ve found to get the focus on the eyes quickly, without having them in the center of the frame, which we all know is not good composition. Once you are used to doing this, it really becomes just second nature.

Note too that for the last eight months or so, I have been using the back AF button on my 1Ds. For my 5D, I remapped my exposure lock button to act as an AF button, so I have decoupled my focusing from my shutter button. This took a lot of getting used to at first, but now I feel it’s the only way to go. What this means is that once I have focused on the eyes, I don’t have to keep my finger half pressed on the shutter button. I can simply recompose and then release the shutter as and when I’m ready. Note that I also almost exclusively shoot in Manual exposure mode, so I do not have to worry about exposure drifting off as my main subject is moved off center. I’ve covered most of this in other Podcasts though, and actually in episode 139 a few months ago, I went into some detail about some of my focusing techniques, so I won’t go into much more detail about that part. The important thing to note here is to really control focus, you will want to select one focus point, not allow your camera to auto-select it, and manual focus on the eye, and recompose. If you are shooting from a tripod, then another option is to select the focus point that is over your subject’s eye, and use that. Again though, I don’t suggest you allow the camera to auto-select the focus point, because it will lock on the closest thing that has any contrast, and this may not necessarily be the subject’s eye. Even if your focus points light up when they achieve focus, it won’t help much. You’ll still have to mess around trying to get it to focus on the eye if you allow it to do so automatically.

I should also note that I do this for moving animals as well. I still usually focus on the eyes and then recompose. The only time I don’t do this is for flying birds, where the background is a blue or overcast cloudy sky, which won’t find for focus. Sometimes here I will allow my camera to automatically select the focus point. I sometimes turn them all on, and use AI Servo focusing, to track the birds across the sky. This is often fine, even though I won’t be focused on the eyes, because the birds are probably far enough way that they will still be in the depth-of-field, even if I automatically focus on their bodies or wings and not their heads. For wildlife closer by though, I will almost always go back to selecting the center focus point and recompose after focusing on the eye.

Anyway, Martin, give this technique a try and by all means let us know how you get on. Hopefully this will help to get that focus right on to the subject’s eye with a higher hit rate than it seems you are getting right now.

You know, not really related to the question, but before we go on, I should say that what sometimes seems like a focusing error, can actually be a manifestation of something else. For example, when shooting handheld with a very narrow depth-of-field, even just the action of us rocking slightly as we breathe can be enough to move the focus away from the eyes. To overcome this I generally hold my breath while I’m tripping the shutter. I know there are various schools of thought on this, like breathing smoothly, as snipers and target shooters do, but that doesn’t work for me. This might be because I’m overweight. There probably is way too much fat around my internal organs, so I tend to rock slightly when I breathe, especially when I’m breathing heavily. Stopping breathing for a few seconds as I take the shots works for me. Also, of course, using a tripod will illuminate this problem completely, but it is not always possible, especially when you have to be quick on your feet or sometimes when shooting in a studio, depending on your subject or style of shooting. When I can control the pace of shooting though, I always use a tripod, as it just helps so much in getting tack sharp images. Once again though, for some other tips on focusing, listen to episode 139. It’s not a fully comprehensive focusing Podcast, but there’s more information on some other techniques in that episode.

So, moving on to the second mail I wanted to answer this week is from another listener who has contacted me before, named Brian Schiel, from North Carolina. Thanks very much for your letter Brian. It’s good to hear from you again. Brian wrote:

I was printing tonight and noticed that I ALWAYS print at 300dpi and I ALWAYS put have my printer (canon i9900) set at the highest resolution…..regardless of size and color. I have no idea why. It just seems like the right thing to do. I must be short of knowledge. Can you pass along some tips?

So in a follow up email, I found that Brian uses Lightroom for his printing, very wise choice here Brian, and that he knows he’s printing at 300ppi because he has been typing this into the Print Resolution field in the Print Job panel in the bottom right corner of the Lightroom Print Module.

This is actually very tempting to do, and Lightroom is not so intuitive in this area. If I remember correctly, it was set to 240ppi by default when I first installed Lightroom, and that was fine for my 5D images when printing to 13×19” paper. Thinking that I need to specify something, I changed this for 350ppi for 1Ds images when printing to 13×19” paper. Again, this is about the correct ppi for an image of this resolution to this size paper, but I found after a while that changing this setting is actually unnecessary in most cases. All you have to do to allow Lightroom to automatically use the native resolution of the image, and automatically adjust it to the paper size, is uncheck the Print Resolution checkbox.

To make sure that you are still going to be sending your image to the printer at a reasonable resolution, check Dimensions under the Guides section, and Lightroom will display a small panel in the top left of your image showing the size that the image will be printed on the paper, and the ppi that it will be printed with. As you change page size the ppi will change to the new resolution for that paper or print size. The only time I can imagine you’ll need to change this again is if print out to a very large paper size, and you need Lightroom to upsample the image to give you a better large print. Lightroom is very good at this too. I recently sold a 2 megapixel image at a pretty large size, having initially thinking it was not even possible, but after a lot of pressure from a kind client, I gave it a try, and Lightroom did a great job of up-sampling the image for the larger print.

So, some quick tips for you there. Again, sorry I couldn’t do something more special for the 150th episode. It really has been a hectic few weeks. I will hopefully get back to having a little more time again soon, though the recent client work that I have been doing that has kept me busy has been a blast. I’ll try to put something together on these jobs at some point soon, as I’ve put myself in a position to be able to share some of the photos.

For now though, you have a great week, and don’t forget to shoot for the Shadows assignment. Cheers for now. Bye bye.

Show Notes
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Michael Rammell

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